Imagine a job where your sole activity is to enter a series of randomly generated strings of letters, numbers and symbols into a monochrome computer screen. Day after day, hour after hour, minute by minute you task is to sit there reading a string of numbers off an endless stack of papers, typing them slowly, complete with mistakes and backspaces and corrections onto the screen, losing your place almost every time, and then you review and double review for accuracy, before finally pushing “enter,” whereupon the flashing code disappears, and then you type the next 30 – 50 digit letter and number combination.
As you can imagine, while performing such a mind numbing repetitive task alone, each hour begins to stretch on for an eternity, each minute expanding, bloating with the boredom, the tedium, the lack of purpose. After a while, the ticking of the second hand on the clock starts to slow, and as your eyes twitch watching it tick, you realize that time has nearly stopped… (This, by the way was my college job – entering the long strings of periodical codes for the thousands of obscure journals into the school computer at Stanford’s Green Library.)
Contrast this with another scenario. It is a Friday morning and you have just arrived to work full of manic energy. You have a huge list of to-dos for the day, because on that afternoon, after a half day of work you are flying south to the beach, or driving up north, or heading west for vacation. You work for about 5 minutes of experiential time and are horrified to look up and see 2 hours gone. You focus more intently and as you race through your tasks, the hands of time race around the clock. Seemingly 20 minutes after you arrive (but actually 5 hours later) it is time to go and you run for the elevator… Then, perhaps you forget your tickets, go to the wrong terminal, or your daughter throws up in the security line – (it seems it is always something) but a few hours later, you manage to arrive at the resort or cottage or campsite, explore your room, go for a hike, walk down to the beach, have a cocktail, watch the sunset, have an amazing dinner, take an evening swim, have a great conversation, read a few chapters of a great book – whatever and…yet…somehow the day seems to be over as quickly as the ephemeral and fabled “green flash” of sunset over the water…
Both of these examples include about 12 hours of linear time… But in the perception of the conscious mind (the part that lives in the present), the first scenario initially felt like an eternity and the second initially felt like a fleeting moment in time…
Now here’s where it gets interesting. Contrast the real-time experience of the ‘eternity’ and ‘fleeting moment’ scenarios with the subsequent memories of those two periods a month or a year later when they have become part of your “temporal past.”
Odds are good that the 12 hours of the first example (typing numbers & letters) disappears altogether leaving no trace in the software of our brains and hence takes up no actual memory time (in contrast to the “eternity” it was in the present). Is it fair to say that except for its role in enabling the second scenario that that time was lost? There is more to this scenario too - when you include anticipation and planning, experiential time goes through another inversion. More on that soon.
This scenario is simplistic example of The Second Law of Temporal Dynamics: The Law of Inversion. In the next post I will describe the law in detail.